Michael J. Kavanagh 2009

Letter From Goma: An Implausible Savior

Is Rwanda the Only Chance for Peace in Eastern Congo?

In late February, I was walking down the dusty road that winds through Nyabiando, a town deep in the forests of eastern Congo, when a young Congolese man approached me. Nervous and sweating, he insisted that we talk immediately. We ducked into an alleyway. "We're all going to be killed," he said. A mile-long column of Rwandan soldiers was marching past on their way home to Rwanda. "Why are they leaving before they've finished the job?"

The "job" was the destruction of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (better known by its French initials, F.D.L.R.), a Hutu rebel group linked to the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. For years, the group extorted the population of Nyabiando and much of eastern Congo and oversaw a lucrative trade in minerals. Or at least it did until January, when Congolese President Joseph Kabila invited several thousand Rwandan soldiers into Congo to help root out the rebels.

It was a dizzying volte-face: the two governments that were now vowing to join forces against the F.D.L.R. had been fighting each other for more than a decade. Ever since 1994, when the Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese-Seko gave safe haven to the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, the Rwandan government had made the politics of Congo its business, invading its much larger neighbor twice and plundering its abundant natural resources. According to a United Nations report released in December 2008, the Rwandan government had been secretly supporting the rebellion of Laurent Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi general, against Kabila's regime in Kinshasa. And Kinshasa had been using the F.D.L.R. to push back Nkunda's advance.

Michael J. Kavanagh 2009So why the change? By last fall, Kabila could no longer survive the situation politically. Nkunda's two-year rebellion had displaced a million people in North Kivu. One of his offensives had overwhelmed the hapless Congolese army and brought him to the outskirts of Goma. Then he blustered about overthrowing the central government, prompting a political crisis

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